To examine the fear of death in a social science perspective, we must consider two main viewpoints and exposit as fully as possible.
First, we can consider the fear of death in a PHYSIOLOGICAL sense. In terms of evolution, organisms are hardwired to avoid death and reproduce.
With humans, the fear of death has an immediate effect on the central nervous system. When nerve impulses suggest a DEADLY emergency, our bodies react without thought.
For example, if you burn your hand on a stove, the nerve signal causes a reflex. The second sensation, of course, is pain.
For other threatening situations, hormones and increased neutotransmitter activity will cause a modification of behavior. In a tense situation, adrenaline will be secreted by the adrenal glands; blood-oxygen levels as well as glucose levels will increase, readying the body for a fight or flight scenario.
Secondly, we can consider the fear of death in a PHILOSOPHICAL sense.
The great cultures of the world usually explain death with a religious or non-religious values.
Abrahamic Religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) “Heaven / Hell”
With the Abrahamic Religions, death is considered a direct or indirect act of God. Fear of death equates to fear of a higher power and judgment of one’s life based on deeds, thoughts, and beliefs.
Buddhism / Hinduism “Karma / Reincarnation”
With Buddhism, Karma is the measure of the acts of “good will” towards the universe, if an individual has lived a good life, then they will be reincarnated (reborn) as a higher being, eventually reaching buddhahood and enlightenment. Fear of death with Buddhism equates to fear of the loss of the ego.
Atheism/Agnostic/Nihilistic “Nothing / No sensation”
With a non-theistic worldview, the fear of death equates to a fear of the loss of consciousness or ego. Since there is no afterlife with a non-theistic worldview, there is no fear of judgment by a higher power.
(FOOTNOTE – These examinations are extreme, certainly. To clarify:
Any doubt in a religious belief extends to a fear of death. Hence, the fear of does not exist in that scenario – the problem that exists is UNCERTAINTY, NOT A FEAR OF DEATH. The question persists: What if I’m wrong?
It is easy to confuse a fear of death with the fear of the unknown. These two issues are different. The fear of the unknown is a different topic altogether.
Death is merely the ending of life; no one fears the credits of a movie, nor does anyone fear the final sentence in the final paragraph of a Helium article.